RONNIE Moore had a point to prove against Tranmere Rovers and his Hartlepool United side helped him make it.
Returning to the club that sacked him for a breach of betting rules, Moore had called on his players to give him everything they had. They certainly did that.
From front to back, you couldn’t fault any of the performances, an excellent team effort with every player showing great desire, effort and commitment.
Sadly, it should really have been all three points at Prenton Park. Pools produced their best performance of the season, certainly away from home, and carved out several good opportunities to win the relegation battle.
First and foremost, it was imperative they didn’t get beaten but if they want to stand any chance of staying up they need to beat the teams around them.
Usually you’d take a point away but on the balance of play, Moore was left proud but frustrated that it wasn’t all three.
Backed by more than 400 travelling supporters – who never stopped singing all game – Pools didn’t look like a team scrapping for their lives at the bottom of the Football League.
But that is the reality and with an added touch of quality in the final third, the gap could have been reduced to six points.
Instead, the elusive search for a new striker goes on and Pools remain nine points from safety.
Moore had lined his side up in a new-look 4-3-3 formation, with Scott Fenwick playing on the left and Jonathan Franks providing support to Rakish Bingham from the right.
It worked well, with Pools producing a disciplined performance.
Matthew Bates was deployed in a holding midfield position, a role which suits him, and he provided an extra shield of defensive cover while also going on a couple of mazy runs himself in the second half.
Michael Woods was outstanding in the opening 45 minutes, dictating play and had a couple of chances to score.
Bingham showed plenty of willing up front, while Fenwick was again in the right place to score his third goal in five starts.
And aside from the awful goal conceded, the defence looked more solid as a unit. Plenty of positives then for Moore but with February just around the corner, time is quickly running out.
This side needs to show that they are capable of putting in a similar shift in every game between now and the end of the season.
They haven’t managed to do that in the first six months of the season but if they do, then they have a chance of survival.
Moore made two changes to the side beaten 3-0 at Shrewsbury, with Fenwick and Bates restored in place of Jack Compton and Marlon Harewood.
With Micky Adams’ Tranmere side starting the day third bottom, nine points above Pools, there was tension in the air.
But the home side started brightly. Scott Flinders called on to make comfortable saves from Kayode Odejayi and Danny Holmes in the opening minutes.
Woods was an early bright spark for Pools and he burst through before curling a fine effort towards the top-right hand corner only to see Owain Fon Williams palm it over.
Pools had grown into the game and Fon Williams was forced into another save to deny Bingham’s effort from the edge of the area.
The signs were positive but Pools fell behind in the 12th minute.
Winger Rory Donnelly was given too much space by Michael Duckworth on the left flank and he was able to put in a deep cross to Odejayi, who himself was in acres of space 15-yards out, and able to guide a volley home.
Tidy finish but far too easy.
Unusually for Pools this season, they hit back almost straight away through Fenwick’s close-range finish.
Aaron Tshibola did well down the right before delivering the ball towards Bingham at the front post.
He failed to connect but the ball fell to Woods whose shot was saved by Fon Williams and Fenwick was on hand to blast the follow-up high into the net in the 14th minute.
Cue wild celebrations from the away supporters who were singing “Ronnie Moore, he bets when he wants” in recognition of Moore’s sacking, the manager responding with a thumbs up.
Rovers’ Lee Molyneux then dipped a free-kick just over before Tshibola and Duckworth both went close from distance.
Franks should have put Pools 2-1 up just before the break. He was played in by Woods but dallied over his shot and Holmes was able to make the flying block.
The rhythm of Pools’ play was disrupted five minutes into the second half with Fenwick taken off with an injury to his right arm.
On came Marlon Harewood and for 10 minutes Tranmere enjoyed their best spell.
Eventually Pools grew back into the game, with Harewood leading the line and Bingham pushed wide left.
Dan Jones, who had just cleared from underneath his own crossbar, had a tame header easily gathered before Bingham’s low shot was saved by Fon Williams.
With 15 minutes left to play, Bingham couldn’t make the most of a ball in by Franks and Jones flashed a shot narrowly wide.
It was an enthralling match, end-to-end and either side could have won it late on.
Max Power blasted his attempt inches wide of Flinders’ left-hand post. Then up the other end Pools thought they’d snatched the vital win, Franks’ shot deflected just wide before Bingham went close from 25-yards.
A point could prove to be a vital one for Pools come the end of the season but it felt like two points dropped.